Kristin Carmody, MD, was the vice chair of academic affairs and education innovation in the department of emergency medicine at New York University when she received the Excellence in Educational Innovation Award from the NYU Educator Community Committee in November 2020.
Just a month later, however, she was informed by the chair of her department that he was “going to have to let her go,” according to a lawsuit she filed in United States District Court, Southern District of New York, on Oct. 4, 2021.
The suit named New York University, the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, NYU Langone Health, and individual physicians, including Robert I. Grossman, MD, the CEO of NYU Langone Health and the dean of the medical school; Fritz Francois, MD, the chief of hospital operations; Steven B. Abramson, MD, the vice dean for education, faculty, and academic affairs; Andrew W. Brotman, MD, the chief clinical officer; and Robert J. Femia, MD, the chair of emergency medicine.
The suit claimed that the defendants terminated Dr. Carmody's employment as punishment for her objections to the defendants' retaliation and discrimination because she was a woman who had defended the rights of other women and marginalized groups, because she had objected to women being paid lower salaries and provided subpar benefits than similarly situated men, and because she had opposed and undermined an individual defendant's illegal blacklisting of NYU's own residents for engaging in legitimate protected activity.
The suit said the “defendants falsely accused Dr. Carmody of committing crimes and sought to silence her, gambling that she would not challenge their outrageous conduct if they made their public attacks on her sufficiently extreme and designed their public attacks to send a message to others not to oppose their conduct,” the suit said.
The suit said Dr. Carmody pushed for equal promotion, salaries, and treatment of male and female colleagues at NYU, adding that she also pushed for female and minority faculty to be promoted only to have her efforts rebuffed. She also objected to policies that ended up with female physicians receiving less pay than their male peers, the suit said, which also noted that her department chair refused to take action and threatened to fire her when she pointed out that her status and pay as a vice chair was not equal to men in the same role.
“You know, I was a strong woman with a voice in that department,” Dr. Carmody said. “They took any opportunity they could to retaliate, and because I was a woman, they thought they would get away with it. You know, it's time we start to speak up, and stop letting them do this because they are just going to keep doing it over and over again.”
The COVID pandemic put a spotlight on inequities at NYU, according to the suit. Residents complained to NYU medical school leaders and asked for hazard pay, gaining a national platform in the media, including in The New Yorker (Oct. 8, 2020; https://bit.ly/3qNcfE4) and The Washington Post (April 3, 2020; https://wapo.st/3kOtrFo).
“These young doctors, the residents, were working on the front line, right? And we knew nothing in the beginning,” Dr. Carmody said. “They just wanted people to listen to them. The way that the institution reacted was through retaliation. I was asked repetitively to provide names of people who had signed that letter [from April 20, 2020, outlining the residents' concerns].
“And anyone who signed a letter to institutional leadership about hazard pay or COVID conditions or about inequities in COVID patient care they were seeing across the two institutions [NYU Langone and Bellevue] risked being put on a no-hire list,” the suit said. The institution's attempts to identify residents involved in advocacy ratcheted up, as did their demands that Dr. Carmody help, according to the suit.
The treatment of one patient put Dr. Carmody in the crosshairs. The computer system in the Langone ED notified the staff that she was a VIP patient. She complained of a urinary tract infection, and was placed on the pathway for that problem. A fourth-year resident under Dr. Carmody's direction examined her and proposed treatment, to which Dr. Carmody agreed, and the patient was discharged. Dr. Carmody filled out the only attestation available on the EPIC system, that she had performed a history and examination.
The VIP's husband contacted his friend, Dr. Francois, the chief of hospital operations, the next day to say his wife went to another hospital where she was treated for sepsis from a kidney infection. The suit maintained, however, that the treatment prescribed was not consistent with sepsis, and Dr. Femia demanded Dr. Carmody resign because she filled out an attestation that she had performed a history and examination.
That occurred even though a review of the case was still pending, the suit said, noting that Dr. Femia accused Dr. Carmody of fraud that could be referred for prosecution. Dr. Carmody, who said she was fearful for her career and future, emailed him a resignation letter immediately. She received no termination paperwork or a report about the evidence supporting the defendants' actions, and said she was not allowed to defend herself. In the ensuing days, Dr. Femia, along with other members of the Langone leadership, cast aspersions on Dr. Carmody's treatment of the VIP as well as her entry into EPIC, according to the lawsuit.
“NYU Langone Health has no comment as to the allegations in the complaint, and obviously will zealously defend against these meritless claims in court,” a spokesperson for the medical school said.
Ms. SoRellehas been a medical and science writer for more than 40 years, previously at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, The Houston Chronicle, and Baylor College of Medicine. She has received more than 60 awards, including the Texas Human Rights Foundation Award. She has been a contributor to EMN for more than 20 years.